Considering that he has endured weeks of college tours, press conferences and interviews to promote his film Beyond the Arctic (征服北極), veteran documentary director Yang Li-chou (楊力州) looked admirably cheerful for our interview at Spot — Taipei Film House (光點台北).
The 75-minute documentary follows three Taiwanese athletes, Kevin Lin (林義傑), Albert Liu (劉柏園) and Jason Chen (陳彥博), on their grueling 650km-trek to the Magnetic North Pole as part of the 2008 Polar Challenge, an international race that takes place between mid-April and mid-May each year.
“Nothing can beat me now. I survived the Arctic Circle,” said Yang.
The morning interview took on a frolicsome tone when the 22-year-old Chen arrived shortly after. Banter and teasing ensued between Yang and Chen who laughed at each other’s jokes. It almost felt like a scene transplanted from the movie in which the three voyagers remain upbeat in the face of extreme weather conditions and life-threatening situations.
The Taiwanese crew was one of the three teams, out of nine in total, to finish the race. Chen became the world’s youngest athlete to make it to the Magnetic North Pole.
Taipei Times: Which question do you hate being asked the most after returning home?
Jason Chen: “Is there prize money?” Or the favorite question from the elders in the family: “Why did you go if you couldn’t get money for it?”
Yang Li-chou: Mine is “Did you take a bottle of condensed milk with you? You could have eaten all the shaved ice you wanted!” In the Arctic, ice is the source of pain. You never ever want to touch it.
TT: Let’s start with filmmaking in the Arctic then. What was it like struggling to make a film under such extreme weather conditions?
YL: My first priority was not to shoot footage but to keep my body in one piece, my fingers especially. We had to wear four pairs of gloves to keep our hands free from frostbite. But my hands couldn’t function under four gloves because they were like Doraemon’s paws. I couldn’t hit the buttons on my digital camera [laughing]. It was frustrating. To capture important moments, I took off three gloves and stuck my hands, heating-pad covered, inside the camera protection bag to maneuver. I only had two to three minutes before my hands lost the feeling of pain and turned black.
TT: How did you keep the camera in workable condition?
YL: I took five digital cameras with me since there was no 3C (Tsann Kuen, 燦坤實業) around if they broke. Every day when I pressed the power button and saw the camera light turn on, I thanked God for giving me another chance. But it didn’t mean that I could get images on tapes for sure.
The most common situation would be, say, I was filming Jason passing in front of the camera. He passed by, but I could still see his image lingering on the monitor. It felt like it was so cold that even the electricity current was slow. I could never be sure if the images were in focus or not.
(Yang followed the team for its five-day trudge from the base camp at Resolute Bay, Canada, to the race’s starting point at Polaris Mine. Once the race officially started, Yang wasn’t allowed to visit the athletes unless they were within 30km from where the director and organizer were camped. Chen, the youngest of the trio, was tasked with filming the whole contest.)